Today I thought I’d say a few words about turn-ups, or cuffs. As in, what do we do about trousers that are too long for our legs and have no tools at to hand. If you stopped to ask your mother, she’d tell you to get them hemmed. Hemming is the proper way to deal with excess length, just cut to size and make a new seam at the bottom. That will make your trousers fit nice and proper, and show that someone cares about you.
As a general rule, I would normally hem chinos, corduroys and similar, reserving cuffs for mainly denim. Two reasons for this: For denim it has a visual function that is lacking in other fabrics, and secondly because unless you have the appropriate machine for hemming thick denim it can be a bit of a bastard to do properly. Light fabrics are easy enough to fold and sew, but once you’re into thick denim you need the skill, the heavy duty machine, and you’ll probably be wanting a chain-stitch as well. Quality denim shops such as Rivet & Hide usually provide a hemming service.
We’re not really there though. And while we will shun the attentions of a seamstress (or even operate a sewing machine ourself, and trust me, it’s not that difficult), we will also shun the ghetto-style hemming by way of using a stapler, double-sided tape, or even just folding the excess up on the inside and taking care not to walk too heavily. Of course, if we’re talking non-denim trousers all of these variants would be more than useful at a pinch, so you might want to quickly note down “stapler, double-sided tape, sneaky fold up the inside”. And onwards we go, to the reason for making the perfect cuff!
For reasons that can be a little difficult, or even embarrassing, to explain to your partner (or your mother), hemming doesn’t really work for those of us that have paid good money for a pair of expensive jeans. You want that selvedge to show, as a sort of secret signal to other menswear nerds, and as much as it pains me to say it, cuffs are a part of that denim style. Not that I adhere strictly to all accepted aspects of denim style, as I feel I go a bit against the general feeling by actually preferring my jeans to have a nice, dense indigo colour. I’m not fussed about developing lots of fades or personality, and definitely not rips, cuts and tears. Once my jeans get close to that point they’re more suited for gardening than daily wear.
So, the science of the cuff, what may that consist of? Like origami it all comes down to folding and where the folds are made. Unlike origami it’s really dead simple. The goal is to reduce the length of the trouser leg from whatever silly length it currently to whatever length your actual leg is. My inseam measurement is 30.5″ and if I’m given the option of having my trousers hemmed I will have them shortened to 32″. That gives me a single fold of just over an inch, which works well for me. If you have long legs you can make wider cuffs work, but if you’re a guy with short legs it does you no favours at all to have your cuff reaching halfway to your knees. As a general rule of thumb I recommend keeping the cuffs between 1 and 2 inches (i.e. 2.54 to 5.08cm).
With trousers coming in varying lengths though I have 3 different variants of cuff I use, and really they are just ways of folding a trouser leg to the correct length through multiples of folds. As mentioned above the Single Fold Cuff is perfect for cases where the excess length is between 1 and 2 inches. One fold and you’re ready.
For the slightly longer trouser leg, where the excess is between 2 and 4 inches I tend to go for the Rolled Double Cuff. This is is where you first fold a little less than half the excess, then fold it again, so the original hem is hidden inside the rolled cuff. This actually looks neater than a single fold, at least to my eyes.
For the really long trouser leg, typically where trousers only come in a 36″ length and you have almost 6″ of expensive denim to spare, you make one single fold and ride that hem right under your knee! Surely not, no, that would make you look like you were 4 years old and had borrowed your lanky brothers trousers after an unfortunate playground incident. No, for the really massive excess you have to go a little origami on it, even having to think it through a little. What you want to achieve here is first a big fold, and then refold that fold again to create a Double Fold Cuff, or a Tender Special Cuff as I’ve seen it called. The trick here is to get the width right on the first fold and then fold the second one up so it’s just under the original hem. A little practice may be required.
So that makes 1, 2 and 4 folds. No 3 folded one? I guess you could do a reduced Double Fold, where the original hem ends up at the bottom, but that would sort of defeat the purpose. I think the three variants outlined will cover all usual cases.
One issue not mentioned is the issue of where you set your datum line, or in trouser terms, where do you want your trousers to end. This is not usually an issue, unless you are wearing footwear you want to show off a bit. Wearing a nice pair of boots there is no reason not to sneak that hem just a little higher than usual, though, be sensible. You’ve seen photos of beardy young hipsters “rocking” their skinny jeans, rolled up to show off their new Red Wings, right? Be very careful.
There is one burning question that can be debated though: Is it acceptable to use an iron to really sharpen and define the cuffs? A quick dab of hot steam, just to put a little edge on it, to make it last a bit better? Even if no one sees it, and you never tell anyone? Let me know what you think, ok?
And in closing, if there is one massive disadvantage of cuffs over having your trousers hemmed to a length that means they just hang straight, it is that you tend to gather no end of debris between those cotton folds. Quite disgustingly so. Even if you’re keeping it strictly real in an urban landscape. The trials we endure, eh?
Oh, a final final question, or even a quiz if you like. Given all the above, and all that we otherwise know, what is glaringly wrong in the photo below?